Atlanta post-punk band Algiers has never been a group for those faint of heart. Their 2017 album, The Underside of Power, was a brutal, unrelenting snapshot of the world’s political climate. Last August, the quartet released “Can The Sub_Bass Speak?”, a free-jazz opus that displays frontman Franklin James Fisher reciting racial epithets that have been leveled at him. Notably, he quotes lines written about The Underside of Power from Pitchfork. At the core, it’s a song about who gets to tell black narratives. It asks the question, “Do those oppressed people have a voice?”
Contradicting perspectives and words blur the lines that could potentially lead to the truth. Through the dizzying samples and Fisher’s powerful narration, the track was a defining moment in the band’s catalog. It signaled a stylistic shift for a band that has continued to evolve.
Entering 2020, Algiers deliver another record that feels aptly appropriate for the times. If The Underside of Power was the soundtrack for the looming political revolution, There Is No Year is the dystopian-sequel that signals the end is near. The unbridled rage is still ever-present, as expected. A sense of despondency flows in all 39-minutes of There Is No Year, yet there are traces of hope layered within. It’s not completely flawless, but Algiers gets the job done.
There Is No Year expands Algiers’ already expansive sonic palette. While The Underside of Power saw Algiers working with Southern gospel and post-punk textures, this new record features more synths and drummer Matt Tong’s contributions are clearer than ever. The riffs hit harder and the grooves are undeniably more infectious than the previous album’s in the group’s discography. “Chaka” and “Repeating Night” are shining examples of the experimentation working in spades. “Chaka” features brief intermittent jazz sequences that wonderfully suit the groove-oriented instrumentation. The harshness of these moments beautifully juxtaposes each other.
Lead single “Dispossession” is another immediate highlight, in which Fisher’s impassioned delivery soars alongside a gorgeous backing drumbeat from Matt Tong. Admittedly, this is one of Algiers’ most restrained songs. It all feels very intricate. The strongest lyrical content exists on this track where Fisher illustrates a narrative of a broken society, a real American wasteland. Urgency drips from his voice as he proclaims that “freedom is coming soon.”
Here they come from the ashes of ashes“Dispossession”, Algiers
So immune to defeat, hey
Here they come with a technicolor antidote
For your hopes and your dreams
Most times, the album hypnotically alures you with its imagery. “Wait for the Sound” is a crackling slow-burner that envisions ashes falling from the sky as on-lookers watch in horror. The instrumentation embarks on a haunting odyssey that Fisher just amplifies ten-fold.
This subtlety, while managing to work in some cases, is where the album can feel slightly disproportionate. Some of the songs on There Is No Year have an underlying, bubbling tension that is just anxiously waiting to be released. You can tell that the band is chipping away at it, but on some occasions, they leave it unattended to. As a result, tracks with a lot of potentially harrowing narratives are never fully expanded on. “We Can’t Be Found” is frustratingly vague in its lyricism and contains one of the more boring backing instrumentals, despite Fisher delivering a great performance.
There Is No Year is another solid album from a band that has yet to disappoint. Even with all of the new things that they try, it’s hard to discredit Algiers for attempting to shift themselves in another direction. The album’s best moments are when Fisher’s roaring vocals match the tone of the instrumentals. It’s easy to just pigeon-hole Algiers as “just another political rock group.” In actuality, they are one of the most essential groups working today.